Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘Corruption’ Category

The Latest Aircraft Carrier is a rowboat

In Chicken Hawks and Other War Birds, Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Defense Spending, Ethics in Washington, Expendable Youth, Political Satire, politics, True Patriotism, War and Rumors of War, Washington Bureaucracy on January 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm

carrier-landing

“Now, the job we and the military writ large face is going to require funding. And lots of it. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. And don’t be shy about the numbers. We’ll get our foot into the door and shove it open from there. Those expensive experts are going to help us, whether they know it or not. Think big! If it helps, General, think of Cronatos Hybamper as chump change, lint in your pocket. The latest nuclear aircraft carrier is a rowboat. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

The Secretary nodded and smiled. General Sanders was like a hound on a new bone. He would be the perfect fulcrum at—what was the man always calling it—“the serendipitous yet decisive axis of intersecting strategic forces?” Gus Scoggins settled back into the limousine’s cushioned seat. It’s just wonderful, he thought, how God, apple pie, the axis of intersecting strategic forces, and the American security interest have a way of magically coming together in a way that helps those who help themselves to it.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident by Tom Diaz

Secretary of Defense Gus Scoggins, the focus of the quoted passage from my novel Cronatos Hybamper, knew jack about things military when he was offered the post of Secretary of Defense. But he did understand how to make money out of opportunity. He was, after all, one of the richest men in America.

The new Secretary of Defense was happy to leave the strategic thinking to the generals, men like General Sanders, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. What Scoggins saw clearly was that the Department of Defense is like a massive seed corn silo. And when the troubling, extraordinary incident spotted by Cronatos Hybamper came along, he was ready to take a giant shovel and start spreading the gullible taxpayers’ wealth among his friends in the technology-defense-industrial-mega-complex.

Scoggins knew that what goes around in defense funding circles would come back around to him and his many money interests sooner or later.

Read more about Scoggins and his wonderful tax milking machine in the novel. You can read a sample by clicking on the link below.

L’État est-nous

In Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Ethics in Washington, Obama, Political Satire, politics, Putin, Russia, The So-called "News Media", Trump, Turf Wars, Washington Bureaucracy on December 25, 2016 at 9:35 pm

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Only hours before the dawn of Inauguration Day, a terrorist’s bomb exploded. It was concealed deep within the freshly landscaped and re-turfed lawn of the most-sought after garden party of the entire inaugural season. The blast murdered the President-elect, his wife, and a fair number of functionaries, auxiliaries, hangers-on, media stars, waitpersons, passersby, and other ordinary innocents who had the misfortune to be within 50 yards of the massive infernal device at the terrible moment that it exploded. Secondary explosions from an elaborate outdoor heating apparatus—installed for the celebratory event (cleverly themed “Ain’t It Just a Beach?”)—unfortunately added greatly to the carnage and impeded rescue efforts.

There were surprisingly few of the usual calls from Congressional leaders for an oversight investigation into the U.S. Secret Service, which was responsible for protecting the President-elect, or the CIA, which is responsible for knowing what’s up in the world. Some observers attributed this lack of interest to the fact that it was not yet clear which of the limping, internally fractured political parties would benefit from such an abrasive drumhead inquiry. Others pointed out that there was no need to rush. The campaign was over. Politics was not. Neither the Secret Service nor the CIA were going anywhere. Fault for the terror attack could be determined and blame apportioned later, at a moment more propitious to one or the other (or conceivably even both) political parties.

From Cronatos Hybamper –An Extraordinary Incident

By Tom Diaz

Every empire has its metropole, its seat of power, culture, and correct reason. Paris. Moscow. Rome. The Vatican City. Washington, D.C.

The Metropolitan state of mind betrays itself in an insular universe of small things, The curled lip. The condescending smile. The shared outrage at the audacity of non-conformity, at the cheeky impudence of the rustic, bark-covered thought. The incorrect thought today is as shocking and repulsive as the wrong spoon at the table of Louis XV.

In short, “the State is us.”

Or, “them,” depending on where one stands.

In times past, the metropolitan cultural and intellectual hive consisted principally of royalty, attendant nobility, a priestly class, and symbiotic entrepreneurs who simultaneously sucked at the royal teat and fed the monarchy its royal jelly.

Royalty today does not look much the way it did in, say, the 19th century. Where it proclaims itself to be royalty today it is in fact a sad, faded, perpetual dress-up costume party thrown at the considerable expense of the tax-paying, besotted commoners–see, e.g., Britain, Spain, and so forth. Where it pretends not to be royalty, it is often every bit as ruthless and arbitrary as Catherine the Great, George III, or The Sun King. Their majesties simply do not wear party dress costumes, or, if they do, they are tailored in a simpler way, and they more often wear sunglasses (see, e.g., any recent Chinese Premier).

Admittedly, there is still a vast difference between the iron-fisted rule of Putin’s “men of steel” and Barack Hussein Obama’s rule by fiat (executive order) and UN resolution.

But what both the Russian and American–indeed all–empires have in common is the Establishment, the apparatchiks, the bureaucratic careerists, and the careerist politicians. The “leaders” of the Congress, the lobbyists, the media-in-residence, and the captains of the military-industrial complex, who are still busy teat-sucking and jelly-feeding.

Every now and then, the climate changes, a horrific storm sweeps the Metropole. This sets up a horrible screeching sound as the incumbent hive rallies to protect its honey and the invading killer bees storm in to seize and loot the inner cells. A Putin or a Trump ascends to the throne.

All would appear, superficially, to be lost. But the hive will settle down. Drones will switch sides without apparent effort. Leaders will strike compromises with former evil–this is after all how they survived politics long enough to become “leaders.” The rabble with the pitchforks will eventually tire of it all and go home.

The Metropole will return to Normalcy. Or “Greatness,” depending on where you stand.

Putting aside the fancy dress of plot, this is what Cronatos Hybamper is about.

OPERATION LENTIL—A STEAMING BOWL OF RUSSIAN ETHNIC CLEANSING. SIDE DISHES? GROZNY AND ALEPPO

In Chechnya, Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Espionage, Expendable Youth, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Mass Incarceration, Political Satire, Putin, Russia, Russian Army, Russian Intelligence Operations, Terrorism and counter-terrorism, War and Rumors of War on December 22, 2016 at 7:00 pm

chechen-deportation-1944

A grainy old sepia photograph appeared on the screen. Soviet soldiers stood guard in the background as a line of civilians shuffled diagonally across the frame from right foreground to center left middle ground, where waited a chain of Studebaker trucks. A tangled heap of dead bodies lay in the left foreground.

“This picture captures everything you need to know about Operation Lentil. Soviet troops were sent into Chechnya on phony missions and positioned in key locations. Any Chechnyan men who were organized and could potentially resist the Soviets were diverted to fake work sites, where they were disarmed. On Red Army Day, February 23, 1944, the hammer of Operation Lentil fell. Chechnya was to be liquidated. Over half a million Chechnyans were rounded up, loaded onto trucks supplied by America to Russia for the war effort, dumped into the cars of freight trains, and transported to Central Asia. Tens of thousands were murdered intentionally or died as collateral damage during the transport. Many starved to death in their new homeland. Thirteen years later, in 1957, the Chechnyans were allowed to return, albeit to a shrunken and more tightly defined homeland. Most came back. Many have not been inclined to forgive and forget their exile.”

 From Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident

By Tom Diaz

This brief fictional discussion by a fictional CIA operations officer of real history—Operation Lentil—serves as a fulcrum, a plot device in Cronatos Hybamper. If Bad Old Stalinist Russia could deport an entire nation, what would fictional President Gribov’s New Russia be capable of?

Readers of Cronatos Hybamper find out the answer in the next few pages of the novel.

One doubts that those who will be in charge of American foreign policy on February 23, 2017—the 73d anniversary of Operation Lentil—will give much thought to Operation Lentil or its implications, if, indeed, they have even heard of it at all. One suspects that if the history of this horrible episode is somehow brought to the attention of the plutocratic old boys who will be running the American side show, it will be sent straight down the memory hole. (cf: Orwell, George, 1984.)

Pity.

Operation Lentil was an axial point in history, when Russia turned from the level of harsh brutality in which all nations fighting real or perceived insurgencies inevitably engage to the impudence of ruthlessly obliterating innocent men, women, and children with the sledge-hammer of the unaccountable state.

The fever has subsided but not gone away.

The Chechen case fits snugly into Max Boot’s observation. “The transition from politically motivated to religiously motivated insurgency—from leftist to Islamist extremism—was the product of decades, even centuries of development.” Max Boot, Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013), p. 481.

The violent line marking this transition in Chechnya began early in the 18th century, when Czarist Russia first confronted the fierce mountain people of the North Caucasus. Imperial Russia quieted but never really subdued these people, and the Soviet Empire had only marginally greater success.

The Chechens and other independent-minded “small peoples” of the Northern Caucasus really annoyed Stalin and his thugs. Stalin and his creepy secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria invented the myth of Chechen cooperation with Hitler’s Nazi army to “justify” the wholesale exile of Chechens and others. The stunning brutality of Stalin’s deportations, of which the Chechens were numerically the greatest, was meticulously documented by Robert Conquest in The Nation Killers: The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities (New York, Macmillan, 1970). It is the kind of story in which statistics overwhelm human tragedy.

From the Stalinist cleansing of Operation Lentil the Chechen transformation continued through Russia’s two modern wars (1994-96, 1999-2009), all the way to the Chechens who are fighting in Aleppo today. The Chechen wars followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union and began as a political fight over whether or not Chechnya (known by various tongue-twisting names) could withdraw from the New Improved Russia. The Russians thought not. Yeltsin was sick, drunk, and ineffective. Putin was ruthless, sober, and very effective.

There are a number of sources about this whole line of history, some listed below, but there is a fine summary of the two modern wars in Max Boot’s Invisible Armies:

The Russians invaded in 1994 and pulled out in 1996, stymied by Chechen guerrillas who, like their nineteenth-century predecessors, resisted to the death. But the Russian army returned in 1999 to subdue the breakaway province using scorched-earth tactics. An estimated 100,000 Chechens were killed out of a prewar population of just a million…Perhaps 20,000 Russian soldiers also perished.

 Russia’s success in Chechnya…showed that even in the twenty-first century a brutal approach could work as long as the counterinsurgents did not care about world opinion and were operating on their home soil, where they enjoyed a de facto level of legitimacy… (p. 514)

Two clear consequences.

One, Chechen fighters are today waging jihad. There is even a blog, the bona fides of which I do not know or care to endorse, but yet exists and “tracks North Caucasian militants in Syria and Iraq and the impact of their participation in the Syrian battlefield on the insurgency in the North Caucasus.”

Two, the brutal methods Putin’s various military forces learned and applied in Chechnya are being repeated today in Syria. See these articles, for example:

“Putin Is Playing by Grozny Rules in Aleppo,” by Mark Galeotti, Foreign Policy, September 29, 2016

A city blasted into rubble, its civilians fleeing, hiding, or simply dying in the ruins while a world looks on in horror. Bombs spilling from Russian warplanes and shells and rockets thundering from Russian guns and launchers. Today this is a portrait of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Not long ago, it was Grozny, the capital of Chechnya.

Anyone trying to understand Russia’s military strategy in Syria would be wise to examine the heavy-handed methods Vladimir Putin used during his first war as Russia’s commander in chief, the bloody Second Chechen War, which lasted from 1999 to 2000 (even if sporadic small-scale violence never really stopped). These are very different wars, fought in different ways by different forces, but they nonetheless highlight one central aspect of Putin’s approach to fighting insurgents: the value of brutality.

And.

“Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again,” by Oliver Bullough, The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016

 If moderate Syrians, the kind of people the West might seek to build a movement around, remain in the country, the Russian government can help Mr. Assad destroy them.

This is what Mr. Putin did in Chechnya, where his security services picked off anyone worth negotiating with. The rebel leaders who lived longest were the fanatics, driven by rage and perverted Islam. They sent traumatized women to blow themselves up on the streets of Moscow, or attacked soft targets — a school, a theater, a concert. Every atrocity blackened their cause, conferred greater legitimacy on Mr. Putin’s allies and ensured less sympathy for his victims.

In addition to the Robert Conquest and Max Boot books noted above, here are some other sources I referred to in whole or in part in researching this and related passages of Cronatos Hybamper (and the prequel which I am writing now):

Czarist Period

The classic history (in the public domain and thus available in a reprint version) is John Frederick Badderley, The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1908).

Leo Tolstoy fought in the Caucasus and, among other things, wrote the wonderful novel Hadji Murad. (I read Hadji Murad as the best kind of satire—just recounting the things that important people actually think and do.)

The Recent Wars

Mark Galeotti, Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009 (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2014). An excellent package of the historical roots and military aspects of these two wars.

Olga Oliker, Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000 (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001). As the title indicates, this monograph ends before the second war did. Based to a large extent on Russian press clippings.

People Who Were There

Arkady Babchenko, One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press, 2007). Babchenko fought in both wars and this kaleidoscopic book makes sense best if one has an overall grasp of the period he writes about.

Andrew Meier, Chechnya—To the Heart of a Conflict (New York: Norton, 2005). Classic and admirable journalism, going in harm’s way to report the beast.

Anna Politkovskaya, A Small Corner of Hell—Dispatches from Chechnya (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). One of the searing truth-tellings that ultimately cost this brave, brave woman her life. Grim to despair in its details of the impact on little people of the Putin way of war in Chechnya.

Context

Masha Gessen, The Man Without a Face—The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012). Another brave woman, eventually driven out of Russia, recounts the rise of Putin, including his exploitation of war in Chechnya.

Masha Gessen, The Brothers—The Road to an American Tragedy (New York: Riverhead Bo0oks, 2015). The story of the Boston Marathon bombers. Useful background on the pinball world of refugees, but in my opinion, Gessen wades into over her head in her discussion of the prosecution’s case and appears apologetic in her naïve discussion about the supposed difficulties of constructing a pressure cooker bomb and the government’s damning evidence.

Paul J. Murphy, Allah’s Angels—Chechen Women in War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010). Snipers, bombers, and other fighters who were women.

WAIT…THIS PLOT IS TOO CRAZY. WOULD THE RUSSIANS REALLY TRY TO TAMPER WITH AN AMERICAN ELECTION? GET REAL!

In Corruption, Cronatos Hybamper, Ethics in Washington, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Political Satire, politics, Putin, Russia, Russian Active Measures, Russian Intelligence Operations, Transnational crime, Trump on December 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm

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President Roger Wilson Lane was hurtled into his high office by a shocking, tragic twist of fate.

Only hours before the dawn of Inauguration Day, a terrorist’s bomb…murdered the President-elect, his wife, and a fair number of functionaries, auxiliaries, hangers-on, media stars, waitpersons, passersby, and other ordinary innocents…

Blame for the gruesome bombing was officially laid on the Chechnyan splinter of an obscure Islamist extremist organization—the Ansar ibn Muqadimmah—that had hitherto been most active in the Northern Caucasus, on the southwestern periphery of Russia…

Within moments of the official finding’s release to the public, President Alexander Arkadyavitch Gribov was on the phone to President Lane, proposing an immediate alliance to combat the scourge of Ansar ibn Muqadimmah specifically, and more generally “radical Islam,” “Jihadism,” or whatever term with which one might prefer to label the wider threat. Lane…was surprisingly tepid to the proposal.

The Russians had never in their wildest imaginings expected this unenthusiastic reception. Lane’s dawdling demurral threw a serious wrench into the gears of their strategic machinations. They had vigorously if surreptitiously backed [the late President-elect] Del Fuller for the simple reason that they were quite sure that he would be enthusiastic about their plan to carve the world up into two, or perhaps three at most, old-fashioned 19th century-style spheres of influence. A discreet exchange of signals between the Fuller campaign and Gribov’s court confirmed the Russian expectations. To seal the deal, Gribov’s operatives quietly salted a few Swiss numbered accounts among two or three key players in the Fuller campaign menagerie. The fix was firmly in.

 From Cronatos Hybamper—An Extraordinary Incident

By Tom Diaz

Hmm. What the hell was I thinking when I wrote that into my novel months before the 2016 election? I mean,  would the perfidious Russkies really try to fool around with our election? That’s a bit far-fetched, isn’t it?

It’s just a novel. Fiction. Right?

But.

But, then, there are the discussions of “Russian Influence” in the Real News. Not fiction. For example, there’s this story by Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima in The Washington Post on December 16, 2016:

FBI in agreement with CIA that Russia aimed to help Trump win White House

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. are in agreement with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House, officials disclosed Friday, as President Obama issued a public warning to Moscow that it could face retaliation.

New revelations about Comey’s position could put to rest suggestions by some lawmakers that the CIA and the FBI weren’t on the same page on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s intentions.

And, then there is this troubling observation from former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell in an interview with The Cipher Brief:

 “…we need to see this for what it is.  It is an attack on our very democracy.  It’s an attack on who we are as a people.   A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life.  To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11.  It is huge and the fact that it hasn’t gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me.”

I don’t know. You tell me. Is Cronatos Hybamper ahead of the curve? Are the Russians really attacking our democracy, just like in that novel, that fiction, Cronatos Hybamper?

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